Tantrums- Just by reading the word, I am sure a lot of us parents would experience BP fluctuations in our bodies. It is something that reminds us of the unpleasant encounter with our young ones. Many can relate the experience to some uncomfortable feelings like stress, anger, guilt, helplessness, and confusion. As a parent, I know how draining it can be to engage in power struggles with our kids. And we will keep finding ourselves in such situations with our kids unless we shift our paradigm.
Let’s look at it through a different lens. Tantrums are the most natural ways for kids to release their overwhelming stress hormones and regulate themselves. Most naturally the child will resort to some common ways of expressing such uncomfortable feelings as tears, screaming, silence, throwing stuff, etc; we have to look at these actions as symptoms, instead of the main issue.
First, let’s understand the science behind these tantrums. There are two major parts of our brain that are involved here: the Amygdala (very similar to the Reptilian brain) and the Thinking brain (Neocortex). The Amygdala has the three best soldiers – Fight, Flight & Freeze- it guides us whenever there is danger. During a tantrum, this part is super active. Then comes the Thinking brain which is responsible for all the rational and smart decisions and understandings. Know that whenever the child is throwing a tantrum, the thinking brain goes offline completely, and it’s only the Amygdala that takes charge. Let’s just say that the Amygdala resides on the ground floor and the thinking brain resides on the first floor. During tantrums, there occurs a fire on the ground floor and we can’t access the first floor unless we put down the fire on the ground floor.
So whenever the child is throwing a tantrum, he is crying for help and safety. What can we do to make them feel safe during that time? Here are a few strategies:
Remember that it is the child’s emergency. Don’t make it your emergency. If a child’s Amygdala is triggered, we have to mindfully stick to our thinking brain. If we also start getting angry during that time, things might go south. The catch here is to STAY CALM.
If the child is angry, crying, or acting out, the best way to connect is to reach out to him physically (if you can) and emotionally by using soothing words like “I am here to help”, “We can do this”.
The most important step here is to acknowledge the feelings and invite the child to explain what he is upset about. “Your voice tells me that you are super mad, I am sure something is bothering you. Do you wish to talk about it? you can choose to use paper and crayons to express as well.” “I can see you are biting your lip, this shows that you are worried. We can talk in the bedroom or balcony, your pick.”
When the child feels understood and safe to open up, he would surely unwind in front of you. Remember to acknowledge here as well “Ohhh! no wonder you were so mad.” “It must have been really disappointing for you.”
Now comes the best part which we all wish to experience as parents. The part where we deepen our conversation with our child and direct it towards problem-solving. Help the child understand the issue from different perspectives and encourage them to see if there can be a possible solution. Take a paper and a pen and sincerely write down all the strategies given by the child (no matter how innocent and ineffective they may be). This will make your child feel valued and believed in. This gives them the courage of “I CAN”. Let them implement their strategies, fail at them, and come back to you for more such sessions. It’s this process of problem-solving that lays the foundation for “Emotional Coaching”
It is never as easy as it sounds, but empathizing in this way is always where we begin and the more we practice, the easier it gets. At times, we might come up with some very creative strategies in the flow of that moment, and on other days things can be extra topsy turvy. But that’s the beauty of the parenting journey- It opens up a pathway to reinvent and rediscover ourselves every day.
My father used to tell me “What do you do to make a plant grow? Do you stretch it, pull it? NO. You simply plant the seed in fertile soil, water it, and make sure that it gets the required sunlight. In other words, All that we need to do is to provide the right environment and the plant will take care of its own. Well, THIS STANDS TRUE WITH PARENTING AS WELL.”